The Persona video games are immensely popular. Not only do they guarantee a lot of content in the games which really run on the long side but the characters tend to become very popular and the franchise is huge at this point. Persona 5 is likely the biggest installment in the series as well so it’s fitting that this one got a full anime. It’s definitely fun to see the thieves in action and the ending really leaves things at a high note. One of the best endings I’ve seen a while. A rough first arc is really what keeps this one from going higher.
The series revolves around a character named Ren and starts with him being beaten by the police and then interrogated. We then cut to the past where he has just gotten out of probation. It was a tough period for him because he was arrested solely for doing the right thing in defending a lady from some random creep. Unfortunately she didn’t defend him when the cops arrived and the whole experience set him back but to this day Ren does not regret what happened. Now his life is really spinning though. At night he has dreams where he is behind bars again and this time a demon is talking to him about rehabilitation.
What does he need to be rehabilitated against though and why is he here? In the real world he finds out that the PE club is run by a villain known as Kamoshida who is exerting his will over all of the students as he assaults them. Ren runs into another student named Ryuji who wants to help but neither one of them are sure what they can do. Fortunately that’s when they end up in an alternate universe of the school where they can tap into summoned spirits known as Persona. These heroes now have the ability to steal the hearts of the wicked and force them to repent. Perhaps they can free the world of all evil? We know that he ultimately ends up being captured by the police so throughout the series you’re wondering when that’ll happen and what leads up to this.
You know this is based on an RPG type game when just explaining the plot takes a few paragraphs and we’re not even past episode 2 yet. There is absolutely a lot going on here. The sheer amount of characters and cases is impressive so you can see how the game would be long. Especially since it seems like this show doesn’t cover the whole game based on how it ends. So lets dive right into this.
First off, the soundtrack is really a blast here. It’s got a very party kind of vibe to it. The opening is very catchy, both of them in fact. I prefer the first opening for sure but the second one grows on you after a bit. It’s definitely going for more of an emotional vibe while the first one is very upbeat the whole time. Then you have the transformation theme whenever the characters activate their persona and a lot of other insert songs throughout. They spared no expense on the soundtrack for sure.
For the animation style itself, it’s good but I wouldn’t say it’s great. It has what I’d call a very standard style here. There aren’t any cuts that are particularly impressive but it never looks bad either. So it’s just standard/average which is good enough here. As long as the animation isn’t bad I’m usually okay on my end. In the end this show really succeeds on a technical side. So now lets jump into each of the arcs.
First is the Kamoshida arc and as I mentioned, this is the weakest one. It does give us the origins of the Phantom Thieves which is nice as they get up to 3 members and learn more about how the castles work. The show leaves a lot to your imagination on this which opens the door for a lot of questions but I’ll get into that later on. So the reason why they have targeted Kamoshida is obvious. His actions have brought great harm to the school and one of the students even tried to commit suicide after he attacked her. So the heroes have to go in and take him out.
How this works is a bit complicated, they can’t just go in and destroy him after all. The way to take his heart is to first scout out the area and find the treasure room. From there they have to send him a notice in the real world to announce that they aim to steal his heart. This causes the treasure to appear in the castle and only then can the heroes steal it. Of course by this point the target is aware of their presence so they always end up having to fight anyway. These thieves never get out without a fight.
So with the rules out of the way, the adventure goes pretty directly. The heroes break in and give Kamoshida the hands with their transformations. Ann gets to directly enact her revenge next to the other characters. It was good that she got to have the win and of course they have removed the evil in him so he can’t hurt anyone else. It’s just too bad they couldn’t have done this a little sooner. A lot of the damage was already done by this point.
Persona 5 really goes out of its way to show that most of the adults are crooked here. They’re either going after girls like the corrupt fiancé, the guy from Ren’s backstory, and Kamoshida; just generally violent like the cops who enjoy beating Ren into the ground, or just plain mean like every other criminal they go after here. It’s rare to find any adults that actually seem like good people here. The only big one I can think of would be Futaba’s legal guardian and a politician who realized that he needs to bet on the youth of this world. So as you can guess this is not a very pleasant world to be in and that’s why a lot of heart snatching is necessary from the heroes’ side. That’s a whole other debate which I’ll go into later as well.
The Kamoshida arc is felt throughout the rest of the series and will be brought up a lot. It was certainly a big moment for sure but the show would have been better off skipping this one. That kind of villain never enhances an episode. The next arc introduces Madarame as the big villain. He’s a corrupt art teacher who steals his students’ work and then tosses them aside when they’re no longer useful. Right now his victim is a kid named Yusuke who refuses to believe Ren and the others when they talk about this. Since it will be incredibly hard to prove that Madarame is guilty, they’ll have to take his heart away.
Yusuke was very unreasonable the whole time but this was a good case. By this point we’re starting to meet some other characters here like Akechi who wants to catch the Phantom Thieves and the cast is slowly growing. The main moral here has to be that you should always not lose sight of the fact that people will take advantage of you if you don’t keep your guard up. Yusuke figured that this could never happen to him but sure enough, it did.
After that it’s time to go up against Kaneshiro. Yes this name is really similar and they are pronounced in very similar ways so that makes it a little hard to keep the names apart. Kaneshiro is using money to ruin lives as he gets people used to gambling and then takes their futures away and blackmails the rest. It’s a tough scheme that reaches all throughout the city and so the only option left is to take his heart. Each arc so far has added a new member to the team and this one is no exception as Makoto joins in. She’s definitely one of the better members and it was good to have her on board. This one was fun enough and the heroes made quick work out of him. It’s another reminder on why you want to stick away from the shadier parts of town though, everyone’s just waiting to mess you up in Persona world. Make one mistake and they’ll throw the blackmailing at you.
Next up, Medjed declares that they will attack the city if the phantoms do not give themselves up and reveal their identities. Up to this point people had been rooting for the phantoms but now with their lives at risk the people change their minds real quick. Naturally giving up their identities would be a bad move here since they would not be able to do much after that. You could make the case that it would be tough to prove their guilt even if they voluntarily turned themselves in but with everyone knowing about how all of these criminals have suddenly turned a new leaf, it is still too risky. The heroes have to steal Futaba’s heart to stop all of this.
Futaba’s not really a villain the way the rest of the people had been so far but she needs her heart stolen because she has been traumatized by this point. She hasn’t had the best experiences with her family as her mother committed suicide and the rest just weren’t particularly pleasant at the time. She blames herself for what happened and no longer goes outside. She has locked herself into her room and intends to never leave it again so if things don’t change, that will be game over for her. For once the heroes are trying to change a heart to directly save their target.
While I was not really a fan of Futaba, this was a solid arc. Sojiro got to appear more ere and he was doing his best to protect her the whole time. That guy gave Ren a chance when everyone else wouldn’t so now Ren had a chance to help him out in return. This helped the team really get together and now they had even more members in place. You have to think that this is happening just in time because every boss requires more and more fighters to beat it. Imagine if it was still just 2 or 3 of them?
Next up, the heroes are confronted with a string of mental blackouts where someone seems to be stealing hearts the way that the phantoms are, only these guys are completely murdering their victims. The blackouts effectively turn you into a vegetable or worse. The only lead is that a company owned by Kunikazu stands to gain from this. His daughter Haru is also being married off to some random creep and he won’t even talk to her about it. So the heroes have to stop Kunikazu quickly but making matters more complicated is that Morgana has been getting upset at them recently because he feels that they don’t appreciate his contributions.
Additionally, Morgana is still a human trapped in a cat’s body and feels like there has not been any progress on this part. So he also blames himself for this and not being able to help so all of that frustration comes to a boil here. Haru also gets to activate her persona here so the group gets even bigger. This arc wasn’t bad, I liked the idea of Morgana teaming up with someone else to form a splinter group of sorts. Then we have the mysterious guy in black and these mental outs so a lot is going on here. It ends up being one of the more important arcs in that sense. While Haru’s father looks awful and the would be fiancé is just as bad, you’re used to it by this point since all of the adults are just corrupt here.
The arc also doesn’t end the way you might expect. Finally, we enter the last arc which leads up to the present where Ren has been captured by Sae. The show really had the whole first season be a flashback if you think about it so it was nice to be in the present. Basically Sae has been gradually getting more and more off the deep end by the day in her desperation to stop the Phantom Thieves. So Akechi tells the team they need to steal her heart and he will even help. It’s hard to know if they can trust him but Ren agrees. As it is, it’s been hard to actually act lately with Sae around every corner and improving security all around.
Well this is the big arc and it lives up to the hype. Putting aside my questions of the capture for now, it was just great to get to this point. This also ties into the ending. Of course I can’t go into it but it really doesn’t go the way you might have expected. I wasn’t ready for the twist and then the ending theme that plays as the episode concludes is phenomenal. The ending just felt very valid. There was a game of wits and someone won while someone else lost. You sort of know that this ending cannot possibly stick but even so it was just really solid. Also, the show did end this way so if you don’t watch anything afterwards or play the game then in a way this was really the ending. Either way it definitely threw me for a loop.
So one of the big debates here is the ethics of stealing hearts. After all, the way it goes, this seems to be like mind control to an extent. The person’s whole personality changes and suddenly they want to be an upstanding citizen. The reason mind control is always controversial is because it’s a slippery slope. The good intentions you have can change over time and it’s not always clear what is the right thing to do but taking away someone’s agency is a big thing. Even in a series like One Piece people deeply disliked when one of the heroes would go around mind controlling the villains. I’m usually an advocate against mind control myself for those reasons.
The reason this one is tricky is because the heroes aren’t giving any commands. It’s not like they’re telling this guy “Go donate your money” or something like that. They remove the dark intentions without any orders so in a way the individual is still making their own choices. The difference is that they’re making their choices from a much smaller list of options because no evil ones appear there. It’s still a bit squishy but I would actually be in favor of the Thieves here. You’d have to convince me that there is a tangible downside to doing this.
In my mind it’s not equivalent to mind control and that’s why I’m on board. So if I’m the phantoms I’d keep on going. You can never get to everyone of course but each person they convert means one more potential victim that they’ve saved. The team is objectively making the city safer. Of course I don’t fault Akechi and the cops for trying to stop the Thieves. They have no way of knowing all of the information that we the viewer have but I think if they did have that knowledge, a lot of the would end up agreeing with the main characters. There are valid reasons to keep on opposing them since that’s a lot of power to be giving a few teenagers but it’s a good bet. I like to think if we had a way to tangibly make the world better then we should take it. Particularly since this world seems so corrupt but even in the real world, being able to eliminate evil emotions while only keeping the good ones just seems like such a good deal. Of course you take a risk since you could die in the castle but it’s a risk worth taking.
Now, there are some questions about how the castle system works out. In the show we see that the heroes take out their phone apps and the surroundings sort of turn into the castle framework. So in the real world are they still walking around and looking crazy like it’s a VR? Well, we see in the last episodes some cases to suggest this isn’t it. From an outside perspective the characters seem to just vanish. If you’re really close you’ll even vanish along with them. So once you are transported there is no connection to the human world until you get back.
With this in mind, how could the characters possibly get caught by the cops? I didn’t buy it personally but someone led them into the virtual world and they nabbed Joker. Here’s my thing, Ren has summons, super powers, and is more used to the world. You’re going to have a hard time ever convincing me that a bunch of cops with no knowledge of this world just popped in and took him out. Come on now, that’s just hard to buy. It’s a pretty big deal too considering the entire season hinges on him getting captured. I’m glad that we got an explanation on how it worked by the end at least because the whole season I was wondering about it. The heroes sure are lazy about keeping the secrets though as they’ll just vanish in the middle of school or right outside and get caught several times.
It’s a small thing, but I enjoyed the music and atmosphere whenever we’d cut to Ren being interrogated. You’d always hear that click sound effect and then be brought right back to the room where Ren definitely just wants some sleep but has to keep answering questions over and over again. You could feel his exhaustion just from watching the screen and also see how it feels like he wasn’t getting anywhere in his story. We still don’t have any answers on the rehabilitation jail Ren is in with the demon so we’ll have to see what becomes of that. Arsene also doesn’t appear much at all. Unlike the rest of the heroes who keep using the same persona, Ren keeps on switching so that’ll probably be a big plot moment eventually.
All right, time to talk about the characters. First up is Ren and he’s okay at best but I wouldn’t say that I’m a big fan. It’s hard to get a read on the guy as his personality just seems to change or not really make much sense to me. He’s often quiet and just trying to do the right thing but then he’s also a pushover. He lets the guys talk him into ordering a maid for sketchy reasons which was a real low point for him. He has some debates with Akechi but doesn’t seem to have any enthusiasm for them so this banter is not nearly as good as it could have been. Ultimately Ren is a good guy but he’s not a great character. He needs to be either more outspoken or just more confident but something needs to change a bit there.
Then there’s Morgana who is the animal mascot here and he’s good for lore but doesn’t help a whole lot in the fights. He does have a persona but it seems weaker than the others. Perhaps that is not the case but it feels like that at least and it works well with the whole sub plot about Morgana doubting himself so it makes sense. Too bad Morgana never got a big power up.
Ryuji’s a fun character. He’s the first person that Ren meets up with from the phantoms and really gets the hang of things quickly. He doesn’t doubt himself or the mission as much as some of the others do. He’s not perfect or anything but by and large he does his best. Ryuji just has fun with the mission and tends to keep an upbeat attitude.
Ann joins shortly afterwards and is all for the mission too. She takes it very seriously considering that she’s been a victim of the corrupt adults before and is always helping out a lot. While more members join up later, I consider these 3 to really be the main players of the group and the leaders when you boil it all down. If they have an opinion on the next mission you expect it to get a lot of weight.
Next up is Yusuke and I never warmed up to the guy. For starters he claims to seriously be an art guy who does his sculptures just to achieve his mastery and yet it doesn’t seem that way when he wants the sculpture of Ann. He stopped being reasonable at that point and while he gets past that after the episode, his normal personality isn’t great either. He’s always rather aloof and just doesn’t really contribute as much as the others.
Makoto is one of the last members to join but she’s one of the best ones. For starters she was actually trying to enact some justice on her own first by working for the school and then by tailing the main characters. Her connection with Sae helps in that regard but so she’s always been on the front lines here. Becoming a phantom was the next logical step on her path and she had more personality than most of the other characters.
Futaba is not nearly as impressive. She’s a great hacker who helps out a lot on that front but she’s not really used to the outdoors and can hold the others back a bit. She doesn’t take as active of a role in fighting either. It’s good to have the tactician monitoring the situation of course but ultimately I’d like to see her do more. Due to her origin story it’ll take some time for her to really get the hang of things but after that maybe she will be fighting more.
Finally you have Haru. I give her credit for being able to self teach herself how to work in the castles a bit. I’m sure Morgana helped out as well but it was nice to see. Haru’s stint as an alternate hero group to the phantoms was very short lived but it was still a nice plot point. She shows up late enough in the series where she hasn’t gotten to do a whole lot just yet but should be a nice addition to the cast.
That’s it for the main heroes. I’ll mainly sidestep the villains as there isn’t much to say about them. They show up and prove how evil they are before being taken down by the heroes. The exception to this would be the mysterious man in black but we have yet to know who that even is. There’s certainly a big suspect on who that is based on the context clues but it’s not totally confirmed just yet.
For the side characters, well we’ve got Sojiro who I mentioned before. He’s a nice enough bartender and while he talks tough, he still helps Ren out in the end. There is Sae who we slowly see get more and more obsessed with the Phantom Thieves. She may not be a total villain but Sae is right on the edge about that. She is tempted to falsify evidence and can’t be reasoned with by the end so that’s when you know that her heart needs rescuing. I appreciate her determination but she really was crazy by the end so even though she started to see the light eventually, it was a little late. Sae makes for a good villain though.
Then we have Akechi who really lives up to the hype. He’s effectively like L from Death Note. Akechi is a super sleuth who is out to catch the Phantom Thieves because he believes that what they are doing is unjust. He thinks it’s an abuse of power and that it bypasses the court systems. So like I was saying earlier about how you could easily get this viewpoint and that it’s a valid one, I do like him as an antagonist. He is willing to talk with the thieves about this although they can’t out themselves so they’re careful about it. Ren’s not very subtle but you like to think they have a subtle understanding that they will talk vaguely around each other. Akechi doesn’t do much until near the end of the show but he really makes his presence felt in those episodes.
That covers all of the big characters I’d say. It’s really a colorful cast of characters here. I wouldn’t say it’s a great cast since I’m not a big fan of quite a few of the Thieves but Akechi and Sae make for two formidable opponents. The thieves seem to spend more time being fighters than thieves in the virtual world but the show makes up for it by having the characters strategize in the real world a lot.
Now, while the animation as a whole I wasn’t too impressed with, I did really like the transformation sequences. Each character gets one for the very first time they merge with their persona. These moments seemed to get a really high budget in particular. The attention to detail with each of the transformations was really excellent. There was even a specific theme that would show up each time this happened. These moments were always a lot of fun and we got a look into each character’s psyche as you have to tap into your inner desires to use the power. I was half expecting the characters to start faltering when they had doubts, but fortunately that didn’t happen. They may have had some doubts but on the battlefield they would stow their fears and keep on going.
The show even squeezes in a few one shot episodes like the moderator of the website going crazy, the heroes heading to the beach, etc. The slice of life episodes tend to be a little on the boring side though. This is a show where you really want to see the next story beats and the episodes for character development don’t land as well. Probably because I wasn’t a big fan of some of them but also because they tended to not look very good in these episodes. They tend to bring out the worst in Ryuji and parts like the maid episode don’t help Ren either. The show mainly avoids fanservice fortunately but if there were any episodes where you could expect some, it would be in these episodes which didn’t help their case compared to the plot based ones either.
Overall, Persona 5: The Animation seems like a very good adaption of the game. It doesn’t end all of the plot points so get ready for a few cliffhangers but that just makes the whole thing even more epic. I’d have liked more of an explanation on how the Persona’s work. Why can Ren use several while everyone else is tied to one? Headcanon will work in the meantime though. The opening arc started the show off on a real rough patch with the villain getting away with way too much but the show rebounds from there and by the end I’d still say it’s good, in no small part due to the climax really being quite epic. I still say that was one of the most effective endings I’ve seen in a while. If you’re up for some good ole mysteries and moral discussions on if you should change hearts or not then this is up your alley.